There are few changes since the last update despite the fresh snow on Friday the 17th Jan.: 20/30cm at 2000m on a hard base – about 50 cm at 3500m
This snowfall however has been transformed, (scoured, some might say!) by a strong north/ north-easterly wind that has been blowing since Sunday, giving the high mountain a particularly cold feel. The slopes affected by this wind have become very demanding to ski (snowbanks, icy layers, hard coxcomb formations and sheets of wind-polished snow to contend with.)
Ski Touring has been taken up in earnest since Saturday with activity reported in all the classic sectors of the Mont Blanc range: Aiguilles Rouges (Belvédère - Dards - Beugeant - Encrenaz - Crochues-Bérard - Salenton - Buet) - Val Montjoie (Cicle - Chasseurs) – Loriaz. It is possible to set off ‘skis afoot’ from the Buet, from Couteray, from Plaine Joux, from Contamines, (the roman road is already icy in places,) from Trient. Ice axes and crampons are often proving to be useful.
There has also been plenty of activity above the Argentière Glacier, (glacier des Rognons - col du Passon - col du Tour Noir) and the Vallée Blanche (glacier du Mallet - col du Tacul – towards the Brêche Puiseux).
Vallée Blanche : The ridge and the ‘Z’ are now well equipped (roped). However, take care as the recent windy conditions have led to the formation of numerous weak snow-bridges, (there has been much falling in to crevasses recently!) Conditions are very variable between the start and end of the descent. It is possible to ski down to Chamonix, though there is a lot of exposed rock at the end of the glacier section.
On the ice-climbing side of things, conditions are little changed since the last update with plenty of parties enjoying routes on the true left bank of the Argentière Glacier (Ressac - Déferlante - mini Couloir - Home Wet Home - EMHM), and also some parties on the right bank (Grand Bleu - 8 Mont-Blanc).
High Mountain: our info is now dated to before the last snowfall. Lagarde Direct (14th Jan) bergschrund tricky- conditions are good on the whole – exit is mixed but ok. The way down by the Talèfre face will be loaded now (high avalanches risk). The Couloir Couturier: the bergschrund has collapsed, a tortuous way through the pile of lorry-sized blocks (10m) is possible to the right of the highest point (fragile). In the couloir one needs to meander across bands of ice. The Whymper Couloir is fairly dry, (two pitches on rock but keep in mind this info dates to before the recent snowfall)
The Cosmiques Ridge has been tracked, (approach possible on foot without rackets)
The North Face and the Couloir Gevasutti on the Tour Ronde have been done regularly.
People have turned back from the Ravanel/Frendo because of too much snow.
With the drop in the wind, the Aiguille des Pélerins - the Pointe Lachenal (Pellissier - MC Solar) – the E face of the Tacul (Modica Noury - Gabarrou Albinoni - Goulotte Lafaille) - Petit Capucin (Valéria) are being climbed. It is likely that the Combe Maudite and Requin sector are also in condition.
For the hikers: snowshoes are not needed until about 1500m. Below this altitude and on the paths in the valley floor, the snow is very hard, (good shoes, hiking poles and walking crampons recommended.)